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May 10th: Wesak
Wesak is the most important of the Buddhist festivals and is celebrated on the full moon in May. It celebrates the Buddha’s birthday, and, for some Buddhists, also marks his enlightenment and death.
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Buddha literally means ‘one who is awake’ and has become enlightened. It is a term that denotes a person who has attained the supreme wisdom and compassion of Enlightenment.
To Buddhists Enlightenment is a blessed state in which the individual attains Nirvana – the transcendence of desire and suffering.
Many of Buddha’s disciples have attained Enlightenment, and there have been many other Enlightened teachers.
The celebration of Wesak is a chance to remember the story of how the Buddha gained Enlightenment, and to reflect on what it might mean for individual Buddhists to move towards Enlightenment themselves.
The festival is celebrated with much colour and gaiety. Homes may be cleaned and decorated. In Thailand, for example, special Wesak lanterns are made of paper and wood, and often there a large ceremonial releases of caged birds.
In many countries during the festival, Buddhists will visit their local temple for services and teaching, and will give offerings to the monks of food, candles and flowers.
Chanting and praying are an important part of Wesak. The ‘Bathing the Buddha’ ceremony is also often included. Water is poured over the shoulders of the Buddha and serves as a reminder to purify the mind from greed, hatred and ignorance.
Chinese Buddhists incorporate elements of their country’s culture into their religious celebrations like the traditional dancing dragons.
Gifts are taken to an altar to be offered to the Buddha statues. This shows respect and gratitude to the Buddha for his life and teachings.
If there is food it is usually vegetarian as Buddhists try not to harm animals.